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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Researchers begin new efforts to preserve government-funded data


Concerns raised over new presidential administration’s control of research

Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, researchers and scientists have expressed concern about a series of removals of publicly funded information and data on official government websites. These researchers have attempted to salvage pieces of digital information that might be suppressed by the new administration.

“The new administration — the new federal administration — was broadcasting pretty broadly a certain approach to issues like climate change to issues like the environment, and whenever there is a shift of administration, there’s the risk of budgets being reduced in certain areas — there’s a risk of neglect with certain websites,” said Kevin Miller, the UC Davis university archivist. “I think what most people fear is the very direct kind of removing of easy access to certain types of data on government websites, and we saw that on day one — we saw that on Jan. 20.”

Earlier this month, Shields Library hosted the #DataRescueDavis event, in which community members from UC Davis could help archive scientific data related to climate change and the environment. The event, sponsored by DataRescue, a project by the University of Pennsylvania, is only one in a series which plans to address concerns about the removal of federal climate and environmental data by the new administration.

Miller, who also leads the Archives & Institutional Assets Program at UC Davis, a project that works with university staff and faculty to collect and preserve their research, noted the new efforts to preserve data.

“Again, agnostic of politics our principal is that lots of copies keep stuff safe,” Miller said. “And so, the more that we back up this data, the more legitimate and well-organized access points that we create for the data, the more that it’s backed up on servers that are under different control, the better it is for the life of the data and the better it is for the public in terms of their access.”

Nicole Karsch, a campus organizer for CALPIRG, said that, since noticing the removal of public information, organizations like hers have found new ways to combat the suppression.

“One of the things that has been of attention especially since this election has been the data that has been taken off of the websites of our government or other attacks to government data like regulating the EPA or overseeing scientist reports before they release them,” Karsch said. “So all of those kind of concerns of having one elected official who’s not a scientist per se or an expert in their field, kind of having power to regulate the information that’s released is of concern to the public interest and so research fellows of ours are working to preserve data and make sure people know that the data being taken away is happening.”

Since the removal of climate and environmental data, other researchers have scrambled to preserve data that might go against the new administration’s interests, including UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Center, which has downloaded data related to gun violence.

For Karsch, who is currently working with CALPIRG to ban fracking, the various issues faced by the new administration are better fought against in a concerted effort.

“I think I’ve more than before, a coming together of groups from different communities who recognize the need to preserve [data],” Karsch said. “So partnering with groups that maybe haven’t worked together so much before to recognize the need to have a concentrated effort, and partnerships and movements to do things, everything from preserving data to recognizing different groups being affected by different policies, it’s all kind of one group of people who, I think if we can align all of our problems, […] can fight together as a group against many issues.”

Diana Zaragoza, a third-year psychology and Chicano/a studies double major, said that witnessing the removal of scientific data has prompted her concerns over who controls publicly-funded information.

“Giving [Trump] full control is giving him the ability to censor,” Zaragoza said. “I know that when he censored these pages, his excuse was that they were going to review them and publish new information, but I don’t necessarily buy into it. I don’t think that it’s fair to anybody. When you google ‘White House’, that’s one of the first pages that comes up, and I think it should be available to everybody, it’s really the layout of the American government.”
Written by: Ivan Valenzuela — campus@theaggie.org


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